Introduction and design
Communication can be a major cost for businesses and it’s no surprise that many are turning to VoIP solutions in order to keep a tighter rein on their expenditure. Add in increasing trends towards remote working and many businesses have a need for VoIP systems that can handle conference calls.
That’s where Revolabs steps in with an IP and USB conference phone in the form of the FLX UC 1000. It’s similar to the company’s earlier FLX UC 500 but where that was USB only, the 1000 also allows direct connection to a network for use with IP-enabled PABX systems.
What you get is a two-part unit, one box housing the speakers and microphones and the other with a keypad and a display. The speaker unit has twin speakers – a mid-range and a tweeter – and four mics, one at each corner, ensuring it can pick up speech from everyone gathered around the table.
The speaker part is a chunky unit and quite heavy, whereas the dialler part is lighter but it has rubber feet to stop it from skidding around on your highly polished boardroom table. All of the cables connect underneath the speaker which keeps things looking tidy, though the Ethernet cable is a tight fit in the provided recess.
The dialler, control panel or whatever you want to call it, has a keypad and a 3.5-inch colour display, and it’s connected to the speaker by a short cable. This has all the functions you need to control the device, although there are buttons on the speaker itself for answering and ending calls, adjusting the volume and muting the mics. The unit uses Power over Ethernet so you’ll need an injector if you don’t already have one.
For VoIP use it needs to be connected to a call manager, either in-house or hosted. USB use requires you to install a device manager program – it’s then supported as an audio device on Windows and Mac devices as well as Chromebooks. It supports Skype and softphone applications including Microsoft Linc and Cisco Jabber as well as conference tools like GoToMeeting.
The FLX UC 1000 supports IP-enabled PBX systems via SIP, and also has a USB connection to support PC communication tools like Skype. In addition it can bridge between the two, allowing participants to take part in calls even if they’re using different platforms. There are voicemail and forwarding options as well as an address book to store contacts and a do-not-disturb feature that gives callers a busy tone. There’s a choice of six different ring tones, none of which is especially exciting but this is a business tool after all.
You also get integrated echo cancellation ensuring that background noise is filtered out and only the correct audio is transmitted. Furthermore, this is a full duplex system – in other words it doesn’t cut one channel when the other is active – allowing call participants to hold more natural conversations.
Using the product
In the box you have the two main parts of the unit, plus USB and Ethernet cables and a brief ‘quick start’ leaflet. It’s easy enough to put it together and there’s a more detailed PDF instruction leaflet on the Revolabs’ website if you get stuck.
Once you have the device set up and powered on there are a number of ways you can configure its settings. This can be done via the dialler unit which has a simple menu system, or you can enter the unit’s IP address in your browser and use a web interface. Alternatively admins can supply the settings via a file on an FTP provisioning server.
For USB usage you need to download and install a small device manager application that lets you tell the UC 1000 which client software you’re using. There is a slight trap for the unwary in that USB isn’t active until you turn it on via the dialler, and we spent a frustrating 10 minutes wondering why we were getting no sound until we worked this out – the quick start leaflet doesn’t mention it.
When the device is active there’s a green LED on each corner of the speaker to let you know it’s live – these turn red when a call is muted. Sound quality from the speakers is good and you can opt for voice enhance, bass boost or treble boost settings according to preference. The microphones are particularly impressive, picking up normal conversational speech levels and relaying the results with minimal distortion.
The dialler unit is straightforward enough to use, though the buttons are rather rubbery and imprecise, a bit disappointing in a £600 (about $895, AU$1250) piece of kit. The display is clear and makes it easy to see what’s happening, plus you can set a time after which it dims when not in use to save energy.
Overall the Revolabs FLX UC 1000 is a nicely designed and well-built device that won’t look out of place in an executive environment. Speaker quality and mic pick up are both very good, delivering excellent call quality.
There are some snags – the buttons on the dialler don’t feel particularly high quality and the quick start setup leaflet could be better. The need for PoE could be frustrating for some, but on the plus side it does minimise the number of cables needed.
Once it’s set up the main functions are easy to use and the FLX UC 1000 has remote configuration options to keep admins in big companies happy. At around £600 (about $895, AU$1250) it isn’t cheap, but in a business environment where there’s a regular need to make conference calls it could quickly pay for itself.